Affairs and the post-affair period can be an emotional and complex one. There may be all kinds of variables and circumstances to contend with.
Yet as often as not, I see people overcomplicating the simple—but not necessarily easy—things that need to be done once an unfaithful spouse’s affair has been discovered. I’ll run through ten of them here. Take them to heart or disregard them as you will.
Rebuilding Block #1 - End It Immediately
It doesn’t matter how you feel about the other person. It doesn’t matter if there are problems in your marriage. If you want to see whether your marriage can be saved in the wake of your infidelity, you need to end your extramarital relationship without delay. That means ending social contact of all kinds. The more excuses you make to delay ending it, the more your marriage will become an impossible thing to salvage.
Rebuilding Block #2 - Be Trustworthy
In this day and age, trust equals transparency. Phones should remain unlocked and passwords should be shared for all devices and social media accounts. Transparency also includes being up front with your whereabouts. This means no more defensive “don’t look at my phone!” postures and no more disappearing acts. Your spouse is probably nearing their breaking point with those things.
Rebuilding Block #3 - Let It All Out
There’s an old saying: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” (Walter Scott). This is painfully true when it comes to affair situations, and why honesty tends to be the best policy. When you lie or omit relevant information about your affair, that information has a way of rearing its head in the future. If you’ve made any progress in the wake of your infidelity, withholding or continuing to lie is a sure way to lose it.
Rebuilding Block #4 - Love What You Love
An episode of broken trust can make a couple—and especially the betrayed spouse—feel like they and their spouse are worlds apart. As the unfaithful partner, you can help bridge this distance by loving what you love, together. When the time is right and your spouse is open to hearing this, talk about the things that connect you, instead of just the things that are dividing you.
Rebuilding Block #5 - You Come Second
Marriage is a partnership, but that doesn’t mean that one partner’s needs, comfort, or peace of mind isn’t going take precedence over the other from time to time. In a long-term marriage, there will be many times this happens—a sickness, the death of a parent or friend, job loss, and so on. The post-affair period is one of those times, too. This is when the unfaithful partner should certainly put their spouse’s needs and preferences above their own.
Rebuilding Block #6 - Empathy
If you don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy, it’s a simple but profound one. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is deeper: it’s when you’re able to put yourself in their situation to feel and experience things from their perspective. If you’ve been unfaithful and broken your spouse’s trust, you will need to show an abundance of both sympathy and empathy for what they are going through.
Rebuilding Block #7 - Be There For Them
Re-read #5, and take it to heart. For a while, you need to support your spouse in all things, whether that means you doing more of the cooking and cleaning (especially if they are feeling emotionally and physically drained) or just listening to them talk.
Rebuilding Block #8 - Patience (and lots of it)
How long will it take to get over this? I don’t know, but I almost guarantee that you as the unfaithful partner will both want and be able to put this behind you faster than your spouse. Don’t let your eagerness to move past this blind you to the fact that it will probably take your spouse much, much longer. Commit to proceeding on their timeline, not yours.
Rebuilding Block #9 - "I love you, and we'll figure it out."
Betrayed spouses almost always share a similar fear—that their marriage will never be the same. And to be brutally honest, they’re right. It won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean it can’t move forward and mature into a happy, stable marriage following an affair. That’s the message of reassurance you should be sending your spouse—“I love you, and we’ll figure it out.” Just know that they won’t hear it, and won’t believe it, unless you actions reflect your words.
Rebuilding Block #10 - Rebuild!
A good marriage is, essentially, a romantic partnership. You as the spouse who broke trust can help rebuild that partnership by doing the right things in the wake of your infidelity or affair, including stacking those rebuilding blocks you’ve read about here. When the time is right, you’ll also need to work with your spouse to fix any weak spots in the marriage, and look forward toward a happier future where you’re both committed to the marriage. Affairs can recur in marriage, and you don’t want this to become a pattern. Fix it, and fix it right. If you need more in-depth help to make that happen, check out my online crash course Overcoming Infidelity for spouses who have strayed from their marriage. And if that isn’t right for you, keep looking until you find a resource that is.